Should we even celebrate when Father’s Day hurts? The day, its expectations and reminders can trigger painful emotions.
But Father’s Day forever changed for us six years ago. Two days before the holiday, my husband suddenly passed away and I became a widow and single mom to our seven kids – ranging from preschoolers to teens. How would we approach Father’s Day now?
And while my father was still living, and deserved to be honored, my own children’s father was in heaven. Navigating my children through grief compounded my own.
On that first painful Father’s Day, my oldest came into my room and unwrapped the gift he’d ordered weeks before for his dad – an oiled canvas hat. Size XL. He asked if it would be okay to send it to an uncle and though we sent it off with a heartfelt note, we knew it was too big for him and not his style. It was yet another snapshot of our gaping pain.
How do you manage when your heart hurts on Father’s Day? It can be painful for so many reasons. Your father has died, or left after a divorce or been absent when you longed for him. Maybe his anger or abuse or addiction kept him from being the father you needed. Do you just skip the day altogether or try your best to shut out the noise until Father’s Day has passed?
Here are 5 ways we found to approach Father’s Day when it hurts.
5 Ways to Celebrate When Father’s Day Hurts
1. Ackowledge the pain.
Ignoring Father’s Day doesn’t erase the pain.
This may sound obvious, but it’s not always simple. Ignoring, stuffing, or self-medicating doesn’t make the pain go away. You can deal with grief on your terms now or it will come back on its terms later. Maybe you thought you’d dealt with the pain long ago, but something has happened to bring it to the surface. My oldest son found that on his own first Father’s Day. “I should be happy, Mom,” he said through tears in a phone call. “I’ve got a beautiful wife, a good job and a new son.” Yes, but becoming a dad made the reality of missing his own dad hit hard.
Give yourself grace and space to acknowledge your loss or wound. We may grieve, but we can grieve with hope. While processing grief (from any kind of l0ss) is never the same for everyone and can’t be put into tidy stages, these proactive steps can help you process your grief. The memories, the deep disappointment, and the pain that surfaces on Father’s Day can be processed. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18, NIV)
2. Celebrate other father figures your life.
Though we acknowledge the loss of my husband on Father’s Day, we also celebrate my own father and my children’s grandfather He’s been a hero in the wake of my husband’s death. He’s taken my boys golfing and fishing, been at recitals and basketball games and graduations, and given me days out for errands and appointments. He’s been a wonderful example of a godly father and grandfather.
Maybe you or your children have a coach or teacher, uncle or family friend who has stood in the gap. This is a great day to thank these father figures for their support and care and tell them how meaningful it’s been. If you don’t have a father figure, I would urge you to ask God to provide one. My husband had a couple boys in Sunday school class who needed a strong man in their life and class leaders have been that for my own children. A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows is God in his holy dwelling. (Psalm 68:5, NIV)
3. Honor your father.
God calls us to honor our fathers. One way we do that on Father’s Day is to tell stories and recall favorite things about my husband. These stories help cement memories for my children and create memories for youngest who was too young to have many memories of her own. They bring smiles and laughter to a hard day and preserve my husband’s.
But what if there are present wounds or a strained relationship? Even then, Father’s Day is an opportunity to find an authentic way to honor fathers and take a step toward healing. That may mean simply praying for your father if you don’t or cannot have contact with him. It may mean initiating contact with a dad who rarely reaches out to you. The day may be another reminder to forgive and move toward a better relationship. by Lysa Terkuerst is an excellent book on processing forgiveness. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18, NIV)
4. Celebrate fatherhood.
Father’s Day is not just a day to celebrate our own father, but to recognize the impact fathers have in our country and culture. Strong fathers make strong families. And like never before, our country and culture need the strength and security provided by godly fathers.
President Lyndon Johnson recognized the significance of strong fathers in the first Father’s Day proclamation, stating “in the homes of our Nation, we look to the fathers to provide the strength and stability which characterize the successful family.” As the traditional family is buffeted by change and pressure today, Father’s Day allows our nation to acknowledge the importance of fatherhood. Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments. (Psalm 112:1, ESV)
5. Sow into future fathers and wives of future fathers.
If you’re a mom, you are raising children who in all likelihood will either be fathers or married to fathers. I long for my five boys to be strong, godly fathers in their homes and for my daughters to know what it is to honor their husband as dad. I want my children to know that being a dad is a high calling and one of the most honorable and important tasks they’ll do. Fathers in the trenches should get some of our loudest cheers. Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. (Titus 2:6-7, NIV)
Though Father’s Day can be hard, I still believe in it. I’m glad we have a day set aside to recognizes fathers and fatherhood. Fathers are doing hard, holy, sacrificial and courageous work. So while we’ll acknowledge our grief that day, we still have much to celebrate.
Want more hope for hard days? Subscribe here and I’ll send my free ebook Days of Hope for Your Shattered Heart.